Having a night of comforts was really nice. I was able to charge my electronics, do laundry and repack some things. It felt great to be back on the water, rested and refueled. Today would be my charge across as much of Lake Pepin as I could muster. It is nearly 30 miles across this long lake. There are high bluffs and limestone hills along the river here making do fabulous scenery. Lake homes dot the shores and I smile at the many small beaches and nice towns on the shore. Sticking to the Minnesota shoreline, I paddle along the edge and stay away from the shipping channel proper. By the end of the day, I had made it past Lake City and was in reach of the end of the lake by the following morning before thunderstorms mid-day.
I was awake at 5am and paddling soonafter. It was 18 miles to the Lock and Dam#2 in Hastings and I told my friend Bill that I'd meet him there around 9. That's 6mph pace when I can really only keep up about 5mph on open water such as this. Large lakes greeted me this morning as I kept paddling on. I kept out of the shipping channel and chose to follow islands as best as possible. The wind wasn't bad and soon I could see Bill up ahead waving from the shore.
I looked over my shoulder and in the distance saw a bridge. I didn't remember that being there before. I looked back in Ina few minutes and it was gone. What was going on? Later it rounded a bend and I realized I was looking at bridge supports on a barge headed upstream. It turns out these are heading to Clearwater on the St. Croix River for their new bridge. It had priority and radioed ahead so went ahead of me in the lock.
Jeff and I paddle to Red Wing together then meet Bill at the boat ramp. I load my canoe into his truck and we head to his new house in Cannon Falls about 20 miles away. The difference between the river sights and the rows of farmland and limestone hills just a few miles off is quite stark. The river somewhat separates me from the surrounding scene. At Bill's we start with a side-by-side tour of his 14 acres then go out for a ride in his Slingshot, a 2.4l engine in a 1700lb three wheeler. It's fun as hell!
Back at home, Bill mentioned he had a generator that wouldn't run well. Bad gas in the carb. I offered to clean it for him and was soon drinking a beer and wrenching in the garage. Ahh feels like normal, back to the old times. Sure enough, it was a clogged jet and we soon had a running Honda 2000 generator. All in a day's work.
Passing through St. Paul, I was clearly in a whole new realm of watercraft. Large barges motored up and down river casting a wake that made my eyes bulge. By the time it reached me I realized it wasn't so bad if one kept away. The rip-rap and metal walls along the bank made for strange return waves, echoes of the first. Sometimes, these would meet a new wake and cause areas of what I call confused water. It can be interesting when waves hit either side of a canoe at once. Despite being in the cities, I spotted wildlife including this bald eagle that was jut north of town.
I woke early and was soon on the water before the sunrise. The power plant along the way made the water warm like a bathtub and steam carried on the wind from the cooling towers in a rainbow arc over the river. Soon a boat came speeding up river planed out and faster than any I had yet seen. It was heading straight for me and then slowed and stopped. Two Conservation Officers asked me a few questions but when they learned I wasn't fishing or carrying any firearms, they started up the engine and continued on. Later, they'd pass me heading downstream and I'd wave back at them.
The miles ticked by and around lunch time I realized I had knocked out 25 miles already. Half the day was gone but man...I was making great time. There were more recreational boats on the narrow sections of river here than I had yet seen. It was a Sunday and I suppose everyone was out on the "lake". Water skiers, tubers, jet ski's and fishing boats put out large wakes as they roared past. I was starting to see why folks suggest this section of river during the weekdays.
Rounding the tail end of an island, I notice a small party going on along a sandbar. Someone gestures me over and says "Want a beer?" Sure! I had been thinking about a beer earlier on and knew these would be ice cold. I haul ashore and spend the next 20 minutes telling a few stories and sharing in the awesome mid-day weather. It is hot but not unbearable. The light beer goes down like water and I remind myself to double up on water for the next few miles. Shoving off, I wave goodbye and wonder if this is the end of the polite people for the day.
I hear someone whistling at me and crane my neck to see who it may be. To my right is a nicely landscaped retaining wall and boat dock. A man waves me over and I paddle up. He introduced himself as Eric and is excited when he learns I am paddling the whole river. He offers me a beer but I don't think that'd sit right at the moment and go for a Root Beer instead. I tie up the canoe and skitter out onto the dock. The constant wake makes the canoe bounce up and down against the dock but his boat doesn't squish mine. Joan, his wife, offers me a locally made hot dog and some beans. How nice is that!? I can't turn that offer down after a long day of paddling. My stomach was starting to growl anyway.
We sit on the deck area and swap stories. Eric is a bit of an adventurer himself and enjoys taking motorcycle trips. He sees many paddlers along the river and his wife Joan even spotted me earlier while out with some friends on their pontoon. It just so happens that Eric met Zach while he paddled by. I ask about Jeff and sure enough, Jeff stopped in for a beer and swapped some stories with Eric. It really is a small world out here on the water. He offers to run me into town for any supplies, do laundry, whatever I need. I thank him and say I'll paddle on tonight. The Coon Rapids dam is only a few miles up and it is currently the lull between afternoon sports and the pontoon boat cocktail hour.
The Coon Rapids dam was an easy portage but had a steep descent to the put-in. The wobbly wheeled cart took it all in stride and I was happy it still functioned. I'd need it for the long 1.5 mile portage tomorrow morning. My arms were tired and the maps shows I had paddled over 50 miles today, a new record for one day. I was tired but feeling good about things. Not dead. Just across from the Coon Rapids dam are a few islands and Eric mentioned folks often camp there. It sounded pretty good to me and I came ashore beneath the grand cottonwood trees. It was an open forest from all the flooding and I walked around noticing the many deer tracks and hearing them crash away to the western side of the small island. The sunset on the river was a deep red and I smiled at my fortune for tomorrow's weather.
In the morning, I wanted to get a head start as I knew that boat traffic picked up in the afternoon in the Twin Cities. The river was quite beautiful and quiet this morning. On the banks though, the sound of car horns and sirens crept in until I was soon in the city. The commercial and industrial zones are along the river here and show the recent past of aggregate collection, concrete casting and metal recycling. With the closing of St. Anthony Dam, much of the large operations are shutting down or finding new ways to stay current without the barges as transportation.
I kept an eye over my shoulder for any large boats coming my way. I hoped it would be a while before I'd get some waves but the wind picked up and made for choppy seas approaching Minneapolis.
I made it to the end of the portage with energy to spare. I felt good but boy was that long. Along the way a cyclist stopped to chat and let me know that the Ziggy's Ice Cream parlor was just a block off. Unfortunately it was 10:30AM and wasn't open yet. I'd have wheeled right over and had me a cone. Moving on, I came to a small beach and a canoe landing with a neat lock-up canoe rack. I took my portage wheels off and knowing this was the last portage (or so I heard on the paddling facebook group), I stuck them by the rack with FREE written on them in sharpie. Goodbye wheels, you've been a huge help. I repacked the boat differently now without the clunky and bulky wheels in the way. Speaking of wheels, guess what I saw just after the beach...
There was some large bridge construction ahead with enormous floating rafts in the river supporting cranes and equipment. I watched as the Police response boats whizzed past then up ahead noticed a few paddles. There were a few kayaks out for a morning paddle way up ahead. I noticed their line to the river left and duplicated it, then cut to the right side and floated down admiring the bluffs and sandy shores. The group stopped on a sandy beach and I soon pulled up and chatted while munching a granola bar. They were part of a kayak tour that heads down to Minnehaha Falls. I paddled on and soon came to Lock and Dam #1. I was excited and somewhat apprehensive. Just before arriving at the signal cord for small boaters, a guy looks down on me from above the railing and asks where I'm going. He seems really excited when I tell him and we chat for about 5 minutes. "When is the last time you had a burger?" he asks. I say a few days ago at the Sartell Dam then realize that was only yesterday. Man...how the miles have flown. I say goodbye and head over to the pull chord. An alarm sounds and a voice booms over the water.
I request a lock for my little orange canoe then look behind me to see the whole group of boaters approaching. Neat, guess I'll have some company. The enormous lock doors begin to part and the light turns green. A horn bellows from the tower and I paddle hard ahead with the many boats trailing behind. It feels good to be locking now instead of portaging. Up ahead is a rope dangling down and the guide holds it as we all raft up.
I wave goodbye to the group who is stopping in Minnehaha Falls for the hiking experience. I didn't feel comfortable leaving all my gear on the side of the beach there so I kept paddling it. It was for the best as I very soon heard someone whistling at me. I paddle over across the river fighting the current and make shore. It is the guy I met on the upstream side of the lock and he is holding a Burger King bag and a cooler. He hands over the Double WHopper combo with fries and a milkshake from the cooler. I can't believe it. What a hoot!? I sit down on the sand and have a long chat with him as I gorge myself on the burger and suck at the sweet and cool milkshake. I know I can't eat all this in one sitting but soon enough I'm throwing the wrapper in the bag. Ooof, I bet I'll feel this later. We chat some more and soon he says he must be going. I thank him and shove off downstream.
The confluence with the Minnesota River brings more barge traffic and soon I spot large empty barges moored along the river. THe color of the water is a light grey coming from the glacial silts of the Minnesota River. It doesn't mix well with the Mississippi and I can see their two distinct flows lingering in a line. It is a neat site I notice at the confluence of most rivers.